Utah vouchers

Utah’s governor has signed the nation’s most sweeping voucher bill into law. Depending on family income, parents will get between $500 and $3,000 in public funds per child to pay for private school.

About Joanne


  1. Cardinal Fang says:

    Interesting program, but it’s pretty bad for special needs kids. A better program would give more money for expensive-to-educate students. The program as it stands will tend to concentrate special needs kids in the public schools, as kids who are easier to educate get siphoned off by private schools.

  2. Only if the parents of the siphoned kids are convinced that the education they’ll get in the private school is superior to the education they’ll get in the district school.

    You’re not suggesting that those kids ought to stay in district schools if they can get a better education elsewhere, are you?

  3. If the state and school districts can save money by letting easy to educate students leave the public school system, that seems to be a pretty strong selling point. $500 to $3,000 per student rather than the (ususually low) $6,000 or so it costs currently? Doesn’t that leave even more money available to educate the possibly harder-to-educate students who continue on in the public schools?

  4. The $500 would go to middle-class families. Whether $3,000 is enough to help low-income families pay for private choices is an open question. Utah is a low-cost state but is it really that low?

  5. wayne martin says:


    The average cost per student was $4,860 in 2003, the most recent year for which Utah Office of Education data is available.

    The Heartland Institute claims that Utah is spending $6,500/student:


    Most of the compilations do not include the yearly capital budgets, or the interest on any bonds outstanding to pay for capital improvements, so the typical cost-per-student number for education spending often is off by as much as 50 percent.

  6. Cardinal Fang says:

    The point is that per-student funding number is misleading. With a few outliers, the kids with disabilities, costing huge amounts, the average will be much higher than the median. So if the average per student funding in Utah is $4860 (wow that’s low) then the median, the per student funding for the kid at the 50% percentile of expensiveness, could well be $2500. If kids like that walk off with $3000 apiece, the rest of the kids will be worse off.

    But this might not be a problem with this particular program. As Joanne points out, $3000 is not a lot of money. I’m guessing it would be hard to set up a for-profit school, or even a non-profit, that could make it on $3000 per student without outside funding, and most low income families wouldn’t be able to supplement the $3000.

  7. wayne martin says:

    > $3,000 — Wow, That’s low!

    This kind of thinking leads to the muddle in any discussion of education funding. Teacher compensation, like any other occupation, is linked to the cost-of-living in the area around the location of employment. Housing, which can consume from 25-35% of a family’s income, becomes a large factor in salary determination.

    The following WEB-site provides a hint of housing costs in Salt Lake City:


    Most of the homes listed are under $300K, and the “nice” home is listed at $750K. Since 85% of education spending is for salary and benefits, the lower cost-of-living in Utah would drive down the per-student. People claiming that spending more for education is better than spending less, are a big part of the problem trying to gain control of education spending. The US is spending 7.5% of its GDP on education now! The goal should be to drive the spending down and increase the quality—like every other business in the US.

  8. Interesting program, but it’s pretty bad for special needs kids.

    That’s like saying a cure for cancer would be a bad thing, because it does nothing for drowning victims.

    How do vouchers hurt special needs kids? At worst they are unaffected by the program.

  9. Cardinal Fang says:

    Vouchers can hurt special needs kids by siphoning off the money that would otherwise go for their education. Special needs kids cost more. The average student doesn’t actually cost anywhere near the per-student cost– special needs kids cost a lot more, and regular old kids cost somewhat less. So if regular kids go off to voucher schools, taking with them more than they actually cost at their original schools, that means that there is less left for the expensive special needs kids.

    It’s kind of like averaging out health care costs for kids. Most kids hardly cost anything– some sniffles and maybe a broken arm– and then some kids have leukemia and cost a fortune. The average, in such cases, is misleading, because most people are below it, and some people are far above it.

  10. wayne martin says:

    > Vouchers can hurt special needs kids by siphoning off the
    > money that would otherwise go for their education.

    This is idle speculation, and not very bloody likely to happen. It is true that special needs education is more expensive than “regular” education. In the case of Utah, about 58,000 of the 510,000 children are considered “special needs” recipients. Special Education routinely consumes between 15 percent 25 percent of the budgets of most school districts. It’s difficult to find these numbers in most school budgets, as the functional breakdowns of these published budgets tends to obfuscate this spending. It’s difficult that the advocates for these programs will sit silently by while vouchers “siphon off the money”.

    To date, most voucher programs have offered vouchers which are significantly less than the cost of educating a child in the public system. So, there isn’t any “siphoning” that is going to occur under that scenario.

  11. So if regular kids go off to voucher schools, taking with them more than they actually cost at their original schools, that means that there is less left for the expensive special needs kids.

    That’s a mighty big “if”, and quite a bit different from the original statement that the Utah program was “pretty bad for special needs kids.” No figures are offered to show that even the students receiving the largest vouchers (i.e. the poorest) will take with them more than they cost.

    If we’re going to engage in speculation, why not be fair and look toward the opposite scenario as well? If, as a starting assumption, we assume the median voucher to be midway between $500 and $3000, how much does the public school system save for every student who accepts the buy-out? If the 50th percentile expenditure is as low as $2500, and the 50th percentile voucher is $1750, it’s still a bargain for the state.

  12. Cardinal Fang says:

    Good point, Bart. The public schools might end up ahead in this particular program, in the sense that the kids who leave could well be taking away fewer dollars than they were costing the school.

    The program is bad for special needs kids in the sense that a special needs kid might have difficulty finding any school to take him for only $3000/year.

    I’d like to see a voucher program that gave a substantial voucher, but mandated that every school that accepted vouchers was prohibited from charging any additional tuition and had to accept any student who applied (subject to age/gender restrictions if applicable, with a lottery if too many students applied, sibling preference permitted).

    How do IEPs work at voucher-accepting schools? Can a voucher school say, sorry, kid, you may need speech therapy/extra help in reading/a classroom aide but we’re not giving it to you?

  13. Cardinal Fang says:

    I take it all back. Look here. In March 2005, Utah passed a separate voucher law giving vouchers in the amount of $5700 for any student with an IEP (that is, any student with an identifed disability that required an individualized education plan).